Presented by NewRep Theatre and Boston University College of Fine Arts
By Jennifer Barclay
Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger warnings: references to gun violence, references to animal abuse, references to violent behavior, references to suicide, stalking. NewRep/BCAP don’t include trigger warnings and they should.
(Boston, MA) The people who commit monstrous wrongs are still people. The man who murdered 17 in the recent Florida tragedy took an Uber to get to the school. After, he went to Walmart, bought a drink at Subway and ate at McDonald’s. He was arrested as he walked out on his own (a common occurrence for white shooters). In Ripe Frenzy, a similar tragedy is told from the perspective of a mother who lived through the event. It is possible to cherish a monster even as he commits horrendous acts.
Anxious Mom, Zoe (Veronika Duerr) is the stage manager for Tavistown’s 40th production of Our Town. She and best friends Miriam (Stacy Fischer) and Felicia (Samantha Richert) corral their children (Reilly Anspaugh & Henry B. Gardner) in this production just as they were corralled in a similar production many years ago. They have the same cares any mother carries. Except that Zoe is hiding dark secrets. As she relives preparations for opening night, the secrets are revealed.
Duerr embraces the confusing dichotomy of loving someone she should hate with unconditional courage. Zoe is an exhausting role. Watching Duerr perform is like watching her pour the character out of herself. Zoe is scared but willing to talk to the audience; she self-medicates by filling silence with endless monologues. Duerr faces the audience with confidence. She approaches the role with sympathy.
Gardner plays both the charismatic Matt and the mass murderer Bryan James McNamara. While Matt is a forgettable character, BJN is unforgettable. Gardener delivers BJN’s origin monologue in such a way as to invoke the John Wilkes Booth/Lee Harvey Oswald dialogue from Act Two of Assassins. BJN isn’t an actual historical figure, but Gardner plays him like he is.
Most of the production flows well but the camping scene is forced. The levity intended in this scene reads as insincere. While the scene does grow into itself, it takes too long to do so. By the time the actors are comfortable, the audience is already lost. It takes the entrance of stalker nerd Bethany (Anspaugh) to draw us back.
It’s a small cast rounded out with crew. The individual in the overhead booth plays the silent son of Zoe without taking a step on stage. That the crew is enfolded into the dialogue tells us that even the invisible players, those credited on the page but not seen onstage, are a part of the greater whole. Even the least of us are a part of the greater whole. Those we call monsters are still representatives of the human race*.
Jared Mezzocchi’s projections are lovely. They are integrated into the production naturally as a design element and as character development. You’ll have to see the production to understand how.
The parallels between Tavistown, NY and Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire are intelligently laid out. Barclay creates a small town full of self-aware history. The inhabitants are the kind of folk found in any other town. We love Zoe, Miriam, and Felicia. This makes Barclay’s big plot reveal so dramatic; we feel betrayed when we discover the identity of the shooter. We want to distance ourselves from the villain and we can’t.
Ripe Frenzy is about the culpability of toxic masculinity It’s also about the need for common sense gun control laws and comprehensive mental healthcare. And love. Ripe Frenzy is about loving the unlovable.
*Stage managers, and design crew aren’t monsters. They are G-darn saints and should be revered/paid as such.
We elected a racist, homophobic, climate-change denying bigot to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. As predicted, Trump’s government is coming for the the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD